WASHINGTON—Bernie Sanders won Democratic presidential caucuses in Alaska and Washington state on Saturday, victories he hopes will stoke a spring comeback against the commanding front-runner, Hillary Clinton.
The Vermont senator was trying to build his enduring support among liberal activists into a three-state sweep that could help him narrow a gap of 300 delegates won in primaries by Clinton. The two Democrats were also competing in Hawaii.
While Sanders faces a steep climb to the nomination, a string of losses for Clinton would highlight persistent vulnerabilities within her own party. Sanders continues to attract tens of thousands to his rallies—drawing more than 17,000 in Seattle this week—and has collected more than $140 million from 2 million donors.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, before voters in Hawaii gathered for their caucuses, Sanders cast his wins Saturday as part of a Western comeback, citing recent victories in Utah and Idaho as a sign that his campaign still had a path to the nomination.
“We just won the state of Washington. That is what momentum is about,” he said. “Don’t let anybody tell you we can’t win the nomination or we can’t win the general election. We’re going to do both of those things.”
Most of his dozen primary-season wins have been in states with largely white populations and in caucus contests, which tend to attract the most active liberal Democrats. He’s heavily favored by younger voters, who were a key part of the coalition that boosted Obama to victory twice.
For Sanders, turning passionate support into the party nomination has grown increasingly difficult.
Clinton had a delegate lead of 1,223 to 920 over Sanders going into Saturday’s contests, according to an Associated Press analysis, an advantage that expanded to 1,692-949 once the superdelegates, or party officials who can back either candidate, were included.
Based on that count, Sanders still needs to win 58 percent of the remaining delegates from primaries and caucuses to have a majority of those delegates by June’s end.
His bar is even higher when the party officials are considered. He needs to win more than 67 percent of the remaining delegates overall—from primaries, caucuses and the ranks of uncommitted superdelegates—to prevail.